Sunday, May 9, 2021

Ethiopia accused of using ethnic profiling to target Tigrayans

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The daughter of a former Ethiopian prime minister has accused the government of preventing her from leaving the country because of her Tigrayan heritage, highlighting the ethnic divisions that continue to divide the nation following the brutal fighting between the government and the forces tigers in the northern region. .

Semhal Meles, the 32-year-old daughter of Meles Zenawi, who served as Prime Minister of Ethiopia for 17 years until her death in 2012, said she was unable to board a flight to the United States on Tuesday. from Addis Ababa despite a valid passport, visa and ticket, in what she called a “reduction” of her constitutional rights.

In an emailed statement to reporters, she said officials told her she did not have paperwork authorizing her to travel, required by anyone who had ever been arrested. Ms Meles was briefly detained by security forces in December.

“To my knowledge, I have not been included in any wanted list, no arrest warrant has so far been issued against me and I have not appeared in court,” Meles said. . “I was profiled illegally and illegally.”

Ms Meles’ claims echo those of other Tigrayans, who say they have been prevented from traveling or fired from their jobs since the government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military attack on Tigray in November of the last year. The government said the move was a “law enforcement operation” after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front – which effectively ruled the country until 2018, when Mr. Abiy took power – attacked federal troops.

Hundreds of people have died in the fighting and thousands of refugees have fled across the border into Sudan. There have been reports, mostly unverifiable due to a power outage in Tigray, atrocities on both sides. Forces loyal to the TPLF have been blamed for the massacre of 600 civilians, mostly from the rival Amhara region, while refugees have reported executions of civilians by pro-government Amhara militia.

Ms Meles accused Addis Ababa of “militarizing rape and hunger, targeting dense urban populations for aerial bombardments, wanton destruction of public infrastructure and widespread looting”.

The government said Thursday his account was unreliable. “For three decades, the TPLF has worked to satisfy an unbridled thirst for absolute power and personal enrichment, stoking the flames of ethnic division and hatred,” an official said. “Average Ethiopians. . . have paid dearly for it.

The government accused the TPLF of being a “criminal clique”, of sponsoring terrorism and of fomenting ethnic violence. More than 100 party members have been placed on a wanted list, while senior TPLF officials such as Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopia’s former foreign minister, have died in unclear circumstances during the conflict .

Ethiopian government fighter outside a tabby village following a clash with local forces

An Ethiopian government fighter outside a tabby village following a clash with local forces © Eduardo Soteras / AFP via Getty Images

Mr. Abiy’s government denied targeting Tigrayans on the basis of ethnicity, saying their dispute was with the TPLF. In September last year, the TPLF launched a regional poll which Addis Ababa said was illegal after the government postponed national elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before the recent fighting, Mr. Meles, who led a guerrilla war that overthrew the previous Marxist Derg regime in 1991, was considered a hero in Tigray. But its heritage remains a source of division.

Under his leadership, Ethiopia was widely hailed for its rapid growth, but the TPLF also oversaw a repressive police state.

The former prime minister is seen as the father of so-called ethno-nationalism, under which power was transferred to nine ethnically defined regions, an arrangement enshrined in the 1995 constitution. An element of faith for some Ethiopians, the constitution is seen by others as sow violent divisions.

Ethnic violence, including the burning of churches and mosques, has increased in Ethiopia since 2016, resulting in the internal displacement of 3 million people. Mr. Abiy put forward a philosophy of “strength through diversity”, intending to bind Ethiopia under one national identity. But his opponents say this hides an effort to weaken regional autonomy and centralize power.

Describing her arrest last year, Ms Meles said 20 federal police officers armed with machine guns arrived at the house in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, where she was residing. She was taken to a “makeshift prison” for 48 hours, she said, adding that she was denied access to a lawyer and never explained the reason for her detention.

An officer threatened to “cut off his head,” Meles said, and with the son of a former TPLF general who had also been arrested, “we were exposed to members of the federal police and the army in an attempt to celebrate the capture of the children of the junta ”.

“My double crime, it seems, is to be born into a political family with a Tigrayan identity,” she added.

Ms Meles said the Tabby people viewed the November operation as a violation of their right to self-determination. “Every Tigrayan family has paid a price to enshrine these rights in our constitution,” she said. “And no one here is ready to betray the sacrifices made by their ancestors.”

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